First off, I’d like to apologize for the length of this review. I got a bit carried away drafting it in my mind, and I’m not sure how short I can cut it down to without doing THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEK GIRLS a serious disservice. Every once in a while, a person may stumble across a piece of literature that changes their life or their way of thinking. Be it comic, prose or journalism, there are hard-to-find works that can genuinely move you, and be relatable to people of all walks of life.
This is one such book.
An anthology of short stories with or without illustration, and some straight-up comics, THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEK GIRLS gave me an initial impression of what I felt it should be about. I expected stories of girls who secretly played Dungeons and Dragons, or girls who rebelled against the system and became big names in a previously male-dominated culture. What I found, however, was that and so much more. Over 200 pages of women who have made their mark in some way, illustrating their struggles with their identities and their obsession for all things fandom. Their inability to conform to the expected romantic stereotypes because they were lesbian or bi or demi or trans. TSLGG is the anthology I wish I had read growing up as I questioned my own sexuality, my own strange interests of hobbies and learned to navigate the treacherous depths of the many, many kinds of relationships in life. From divorces, to cheating, to treating dating like a RPG, this collection of stories has something for every person imaginable. There’s even some lovely advice on why the movies are wrong, and how Disney is strongly promoting pedophilia with its princesses and their whirlwind marriages that can’t really end as well as they say. There’s BDSM and masturbation and every sexual subject that women aren’t supposed to like or talk about. It tells you that sometimes, yes, it IS your fault. It’s empowering, enlightening and invigorating. In some instances, it even gets kinda hot. Here’s looking at you, Miss Bennett!
A beautifully put-together work of art, TSLGG brought me to my knees. I cried several times reading it, felt my heart ache for the strong women who bared their souls and was forced to look at myself and reevaluate how I felt about a few key moments in my past. The art styles are as varied as the stories within the pages, but each depicts a heart-wrenching story, some happier than others, that will have you devouring the book in it’s entirety. This is not one to be interrupted for petty things such as work. I suggest grabbing a box of tissues and a pillow, because you’ll be in it for the long haul.
Margaret Atwood begins us off with several short comic strips, humorous and real, about the struggles of a girl whose interests lies outside of the pretty pink box society shoves us in. She gives way to my second favorite story in the anthology, Marguerite Bennett. Bennett has a way of painting the most alluring scenes with her words. To steal her own line, she speaks like a novel. The emotion that’s weaved in and out of her semi-erotic, wholly-emotional telling of a girl she once loved is enough to swamp anyone in waves of nostalgia, regret and self-pondering. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of what we love, and neglect the real thing. Her description of their love made my heart physically hurt, and catch in my throat. She shows a side of a relationship that had me delve into questions with my own husband. Questions Bennett says, rightfully so, showed the truth of a person. They were fun to ask, more fun to answer, and more enlightening than I’d thought after a six year long relationship of many ups and downs. A simple story of a complex tale, that opened my own up to a new chapter of knowing.
I think the most beautiful part of this anthology is that it really is for everyone. While written by women, with stories that are seemingly targeted towards helping other women, I think they are stories everyone should read. Everyone can learn from these experiences of pain and angst and dreams and laughter. Everyone has room to listen to a stranger, and take a lesson or six away. It is my personal belief that there is not a single story in this collection that anyone, man or woman, can read without feeling something. Without questioning something. Without thinking of someone. Whether it’s because you’ve dealt with liking someone that was perfect, and realizing you can’t settle for less than love, or because you harbor a fetish for books the rest of the world might deem as a little… strange, you’re not alone.
In a world that tells women to behave one way and think another, to be a geeky girl can be hard. Games, comics, music and even our very thoughts in some cases are regulated and labeled as being ‘a guy thing.’ Lesbians are for fantasies, and asexual, demisexuals, whateversexuals?
This book says otherwise.
This books tells you that you are beautiful and strong and capable and not alone, like you may feel. Be you man or woman or whatever you want to be referred to as, THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKY GIRLS tells you that being yourself is more than enough, and it’s enough to be proud of. That you should be proud. There’s an entire community waiting for you to waltz in, you just need to get to steppin’ and let go of doubt. It’s okay to be deeply connected to fictional worlds; they make more sense anyways.
TSLGG illustrates being on the outside, looking in, when sometimes all you want to do is look around. It’s told with humor, with heart, with passion, with pain and with enchanting imagery that paints very real pictures in your head that the artists left out. It works that way. It’s like being transported to another life, but not really, because nearly anyone will see themselves among the pages. They’ll recognize the fear of rejection, the shame at being different and the need to hide their interests. They’ll see the pain at being outed. The joy at finding acceptance. And the peace that comes with knowing you’re not as freakish as you were scared of being.
Unless, of course, being freakish is your thing. Because that’s totally cool too.
My favorite story told of a Pakistani girl adopted by a Jamaican family living in England who was obsessed with Frodo. She spun a tale of a beautiful boy she never spoke to, whose name she never knew, and how her skin color made her the target of a hateful game. She lamented about the destruction of her love for LORD OF THE RINGS at the feet of men and boys. She teaches that though it may take time, you can overcome your fears and face them. You can reclaim yourself, or allow the things you love to be stolen away. Hers was the first story I cried at, silent tears falling down my face as I read about the shoes she’d never forget, and the taped up story that saved her life.
I could go on for eons, and in reality, I probably will. I’ll continue reading to my husband, story by story, and I’ll mark the ones I can read to my children. There’s a lot to be learned about sex and power and pain and literature and identity, and TSLGG is handcrafted to teach the lessons that many women wish they’d learned about years ago. Don’t be fooled by the romantic content; this anthology is about life and love and learning how to accept who you are, the way you are, and not wasting your time on the people who think that isn’t enough.
It’s about you.
It’s about me.
It’s about every geeky girl who never found her niche.
And it’s about time the world knew who we are.
Writer: Margaret Atwood, Marjorie Liu, Mariko Tamaki, Marguerite Bennett
Artist: Margaret Atwood, Jen Vaughn